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Charity Airlift plans local base

April 05, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Charity Airlift, an international nonprofit organization that wants to fly tons of food to needy people around the globe, has announced plans to make the Hagerstown Regional Airport its home base.

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"We chose Hagerstown because it is convenient to the international embassies in Washington, D.C., and is ideal for transatlantic passage," organization founder Howard Leedham said Monday.

Leedham, a retired British Royal Navy commando pilot, founded Charity Airlift in 1996, after tours of duty in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Seeing how some people lived in the countries he visited, and observing the difficulties relief organizations face in getting supplies to where they are needed, prompted Leedham to found the organization, according to a statement announcing that the organization will come to Hagerstown.

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Charity Airlift will help victims of weather, war and famine, Leedham said.

"We plan to begin operation with 15 employees and grow as we add planes," Leedham said.

"They'll start with one plane and be flying food out of here in three to six months," said Tom Riford, marketing director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

He said Charity Airlift, which currently is based in North Carolina, is raising money to purchase its first airplane.

Eventually, as many as five C-130 Hercules cargo planes could fly out of Hagerstown, Riford said.

Once in operation, the organization will be the first of its kind in the United States, he said.

It will provide airlift support to other charities and humanitarian organizations, according to the statement issued by Riford.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he was pleased with the organization's decision to come to Washington County.

"We're always trying to recruit different types of business to the area," Snook said. "It's important to have different kinds of facets out at the airport."

Snook said there is the potential for growth as Charity Airlift expands.

The organization has received permission from the family of Diana, Princess of Wales, to conduct the mission in her memory, and the support of various groups including Feed the Hungry International and the American Red Cross, according to the statement.

"I have been so excited, proud, pleased and thrilled that Charity Airlift chose Hagerstown as its home base," Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said in a statement.

"They could have gone anywhere, but they chose Hagerstown. That speaks volumes."

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